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Published on August 22nd, 2013 | by Tony Odett


Total War-rior

In celebration of the upcoming release of Total War: Rome 2, The Strategist decided to share his favorite story from his long history with the series.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

I never meant to wade into battle with my 161 light cavalrymen against the might of Germania. It was only a scout force, ahead of my main army, searching for ambushes. The forests of the Danube and beyond easily hide an army, and I was determined not to see myself caught in march column. Yet, here I was: my advanced force under heavy assault, unable to retreat any further. Four units of Roman cavalry faced 960 German spearmen, commanded by their faction leader. They even had a ballista with them.

I was completely overmatched. Light horsemen are great against archers, or for riding down a retreating foe, but they are weak against heavy horse, and spearmen are their deadliest foe. This was not a battle I relished fighting. Worse, since I had already withdrawn from battle once already, I could not retreat out of the map voluntarily. According to the rules of Total War, I had to stand and fight. And die.

Total War 1

I lined my forces up to receive the foe and steeled my resolve. Were my men to fall, they would take as many Germans with them to the afterlife as they could. My enemy did not even bother to deploy the ballista but formed line of battle and charged. Their general, seizing the moment, charged with them, heading what would surely be an inexorable movement. My doom approached, a wave of purple clad spearmen intent on ending my poor little force’s miserable existence.

It was then, when all hope seemed lost, when I appeared completely unable to resist my foe, that I noticed something.

A glittering opportunity showed itself.

The enemy faction leader, on horseback, outpaced his men. His frothy charge could not be stopped. My disciplined horsemen scattered in fourth separate directions. Their leader continued, pursuing the unit of horsemen containing my general (appointed from the ranks since I had no true generals at this battle). I fled, drawing him away from the supporting distance of his infantry. Despite having no real combat power, my men were fast and maneuverable, allowing me this one chance to strike a blow. With one unit of horsemen hotly pursued, I moved the other three into a strong ambush position. Guiding my foe along, I drew him quickly into my trap.

Rome Total War/1.0 (Mac OS 10.6.4; 2.93; 4.0; 256; GeForce GT 120)

And then, my unit halted.

Before he knew what was happening, the German leader found himself assaulted in both flanks and in the rear. The impetus of the charge threw him into disarray. My unit that had so expertly withdrawn only moments earlier paused, reformed, and plunged into the melee, completing the encirclement. Now the race was truly on. Could I kill him before his infantry arrived to exact their revenge?

My advisor spoke those blessed words: the enemy general has fallen. His bodyguard broke, destroyed utterly. I had lost perhaps 30 men, but considering the head of the enemy had been chopped off, it was well worth the price. The enemy army’s infantry continued to surge toward me, but now I had a massive advantage: my horsemen could not be caught by any unit the enemy possessed. I surged around the flank of the infantry, driving straight toward their rear. The ballista crew, left alone by the German’s pell-mell charge, was easy pickings for my victorious horsemen. Worse still, the charge had left their eight units of spearmen badly separated, and with the death of their leader, the men were also demoralized.

The hunters became the hunted. My entire force of horsemen would swarm each of the enemy units, one by one, from four different directions, and then withdraw before any reinforcements could arrive. Any two of the spearmen had more men than my entire little army, so isolation was paramount. Stragglers were gobbled up by my units, which fled to fight another day. Any routing Germans were instantly cut down. One by one, the enemy units were overwhelmed under the trees. Slowly, precisely, and without mercy, I massacred the foe.

Rome 2

I don’t think I have a more indelible gaming memory than this one particular battle in Rome: Total War. I think it sums up the essence of what makes me play every game in the series. Those moments of epic decision, of crisis evolving not from some canned storyline but dynamically from the gameplay are more memorable and emotionally affecting to me than any other gaming moment. You can talk about Cloud and Sephiroth, Master Chief and Shepard all you wish, but their moments of glory and despair were all written and executed by someone else. Total War lets me seize glory on my own merits, a much richer and touching experience than I will get from any cutscene. In a couple of weeks, Total War: Rome 2 will launch. Do yourself a favor and give it a solid look. Truly rewarding gaming experiences are rare. This series has provided them by the bucketful.

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About the Author

A longtime blogger/games writer with a distinct love of strategy, he brings the smarts and the sarcasm to the Perfectly Sane Show and to Critically Sane. Always going on about games with vast strategic minutia, Tony also writes as the Critically Sane Strategist.

  • Wolf

    …. are you sure you aren’t a poet? That does sound pretty epic!.
    I liked the FF reference too 🙂

  • Wolf

    Mr. Strategy: What are your thoughts of Tactics vs. Strategy in games?
    I’d argue strategy is the approach to a battle, and tactics are how you act in the battle.
    In the context of your Rome experience, the strategy would have been the movement and position of your armies on a world map, where tactics would be the fight in which you individually moved your Calvary.
    Do games do one better than the other? What would be the ‘best examples’/your favorite of each?

    • Wolf

      The question came to mind as I have sunk too many hours into the Starcraft series, and will continue to do so, but thanks to your posts, I have a serious ‘strategy itch’, and recently picked up Civ4.

      I’d argue SC is almost exclusively a tactics game, often lacking a strategic depth beyond the Jomini idea of hit the enemy in their strongest place to break them and win the war. (Yes there is much more depth to the game beyond that, but many fights still come to this principal).
      Civ is less about the individual conflicts, and more about the clash of nations, which are almost never decided in a single ‘battle’.

      The difference in scale makes the games hard to directly compare, so the question is directed at player experience/enjoyment. Does Rome hit a sweet spot of both Strategy and tactics? Are there many games that do?

      • Chris Scott

        Being as you have to build your army, I wouldn’t say Starcraft is exclusively tactical. There is a lot of strategy that goes into how exactly you want to approach your attack. Do you rush? Do you hole up and build economy/tech? Do you poke and prod?

        • Wolf

          Oh I am aware of all that, but its still at a single conflict’s scale. Even in larger campaign battles, the suggestion is that you are only commanding a single ‘front’ of the action. While that is on purpose, and I would say SC does that scale like no one else, its a scale that doesn’t lend itself to a great deal of strategic thought. Yes you still have strategy, that you execute with tactics, but its not the whole war/universe.

          After playing Starcraft for over 10 years, sometimes I’d like to see other aspects of the conflict. I’d like to actually claim a whole planet, not just fight the ‘capital city’ battles.

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